×

Looking Back at the ‘Fosse/Verdon’ Dancing Legends That Inspired FX Series

On April 9, FX debuts “Fosse/Verdon,” about two people who may not be household names, but are certainly in the Pantheon to those who love musicals.

In the Jan. 25, 1950, issue, Variety reviewer Hobe Morrison lamented the stage revue “Alive and Kicking,” but gave one of the few positive mentions to newcomer Gwen Verdon. (Among others in the cast: Carl Reiner.) Variety’s first story about Bob Fosse ran on July 24, 1952, when he signed as a performer with MGM. The two met in 1955, when she starred in Broadway’s “Damn Yankees,” which he choreographed. In the May 6, 1955, review, Morrison had problems with the show, but high praise for both of them. For the 1958 film, they reprised those duties and he also appeared in the “Who’s Got the Pain” mambo number.

The teaming of director-choreographer Fosse and star Verdon was unbeatable for years with such Broadway shows as “Redhead” (1960), “Sweet Charity” (1966) and the original “Chicago” (1975). Fosse also made awards history by winning an Emmy, Oscar and Tony within one year, for “Liza With a Z,” “Cabaret” and “Pippin,” respectively. Even though estranged, he and Verdon remained married until his death in 1987.

In her career, Verdon won four Tony Awards, and was nominated for two others. Though she was a certifiable Broadway Baby, she was born in Culver City and appeared in many films as an uncredited dancer early in her career.

Her big breakthrough was in the 1953 Cole Porter stage musical “Can-Can.” As the second female lead, she stole the show and emerged as a star. But that didn’t boost her stock in Hollywood.

In 1955, Variety ran a page one story that Verdon’s dance number would be cut from “Gentlemen Marry Brunettes” because censors worried about the garter worn on her thigh. Yes, life was very different in the 1950s.

Fosse was born in Chicago and made a few films under his MGM contract, such as the 3D “Kiss Me Kate” and “My Sister Eileen.” But his bigger successes were as a choreographer, with his first stage musical “The Pajama Game” (1954), followed by other hits like “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” (1961).

After his Broadway hits, he went on to direct five films: “Sweet Charity” starring Shirley MacLaine (1969); “Cabaret” (1972); “Lenny,” with Dustin Hoffman (1974); “All That Jazz” (1979) and “Star 80” (1983) with Mariel Hemingway. Except for “Charity,” they were all studies of the dark-but-hypnotically beautiful worlds of showbiz.

Fosse’s awards tally was outstanding, with a record eight Tony Awards as choreographer (and another as director), plus Oscar nominations as director for three of his five films: “Cabaret” (winning), “Lenny” and “All That Jazz.” That last quasi-musical, starring Roy Scheider, was a semi-autobiographical look at his complex personal relationships, his creative urges and his disregard for his own health.

Fosse died of a heart attack in 1987, collapsing on the street in Verdon’s arms; Verdon continued to work until her death in 2000.

More Vintage

  • Makoto Iwamatsu The Sand Pebbles

    How Mako Helped Pave Way for Asian American Actors in 1965 With L.A. Theater Group

    The historic Golden Globe best actress win for Asian American actor Awkwafina reminds us of the pioneering work of creative trailblazers of Asian descent who preceded her. That list dates back to 1936 with Indian-Maori-European actor Merle Oberon’s Oscar nomination for 1935’s “The Dark Angel,” and includes such distinguished artists as Ken Watanabe, in Clint [...]

  • Katy Jurado High Noon

    Katy Jurado's Globe Win for 1952's 'High Noon' Was a Golden Moment for Diversity

    Long before the push for diversity and inclusion, Hollywood had a few Latin/Hispanic stars who made a big impact. One was Katy Jurado, the first Latina actress to win a Golden Globe (for 1952’s “High Noon”) and the first nominated for an Oscar (1954’s “Broken Lance”). She was born Jan. 16, 1924, in Mexico, and [...]

  • Willem Dafoe The Lighthouse

    Willem Dafoe on Early Film Roles, Working With Robert Eggers on 'The Lighthouse'

    A four-time Academy Award nominee, Willem Dafoe developed his cinematic charisma — seen in films like “The Florida Project” and “At Eternity’s Gate” — in his early career in theater. After studying drama at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Dafoe moved to New York in 1976 and joined what would eventually become The Wooster Group. His [...]

  • Scarface Movie

    Looking Back at 'Scarface' and How It Became a Cinematic Classic

    “Scarface,” which opened Dec. 9, 1983, made money at the box office but wasn’t immediately profitable. However, in the 36 years since, the film has been embraced as a classic. The project started as a 1930 pulp novel by Armitage Trail, inspired by gangster Al Capone, whose nickname was Scarface. On April 6, 1982, Variety [...]

  • Irwin Winkler

    'Irishman' Producer Irwin Winkler on De Niro, Scorsese and Early Days as an Agent

    Irwin Winkler has been producing films for parts of six decades. His latest is “The Irishman,” which reunites him with frequent collaborators Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro (“Raging Bull,” “Goodfellas,” “New York, New York”) as well as Al Pacino (“Revolution”). Winkler was first mentioned in Variety on Dec. 24, 1958, when he was an [...]

  • Jonathan Pryce

    Jonathan Pryce on Early Roles, Reading Reviews and Advice He Got From Lee Strasberg

    Jonathan Pryce, who has done memorable work for 40-plus years, hits a career high in “The Two Popes,” a complex look at Francis, played by Pryce, and Benedict, portrayed by Anthony Hopkins. Though Pryce has played well-known figures before, such as Juan Perón in the 1996 “Evita,” he was hesitant to take on Pope Francis [...]

  • Sesame Street PBS

    'Sesame Street' Was First Brought to You by the Letters PBS 50 Years Ago

    “Sesame Street” bowed 50 years ago, on Nov. 10, 1969, one week after the launch of PBS. A month later, Variety reporter Les Brown gushed, “It may be just the show to put public television on the ratings map.”  He was right. “Sesame Street” drew 1.9 million households — especially impressive since it was seen [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content